How Do You Become an Astronaut? Ask NASA’s Latest Recruits

It’s been a long time since “astronaut” has been a common career choice for young children, mostly due to the dwindling demand for human space voyagers. However, when NASA announced its eight new recruits a week ago, the government space agency rekindled a classic dream for men — and notably women — across the country.

What’s really fascinating about this particular group of candidates is their current career paths. While several of these astronauts are already serving the country in one way or another, all hold advanced degrees in a variety of subjects, though most have always aspired to travel in space. NASA was highly selective: Less than 1% of the 6,100 applicants were selected as recruits. Though it’s not the most high-paying job — space explorers make between $64,000 and $141,000 a year — you can’t buy experiences like trips to Mars or asteroids.

Check out this new class of astronauts ready for space exploration in the 21st century.

1. Josh A. Cassada

This 39-year-old Michigan native earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Rochester after completing his undergraduate degree at Albion College. He currently serves as the co-founder and chief technology officer for Quantum Opus. Despite his formal training as a psychiatrist, Cassada’s company (which he started with his former college physics professor) supplies advanced physics researchers with equipment to measure single-photon emissions. Additionally, Cassada is a U.S. Navy pilot.

2. Victor J. Glover

Glover hails from California and Texas, and is an accomplished lieutenant commander for the U.S. Navy. He is an F/A-18 pilot and a navy legislative fellow for Congress. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and has degrees from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and Air University and Naval Postgraduate School. In addition to being a successful engineer, Glover dreams of mastering the Djembe drum and wrestled through college on the same team as UFC star Chuck Liddel.

3. Jessica U. Meir

Meir is 35 years old and an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. Like so many of her peers, she aspired to space travel at an early age, though her degrees and work experience suggest otherwise. Originally from Caribou, Maine, Meir studied at Brown University and received her Ph.D. from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. She also holds a degree from the International Space University, though before settling into her teaching job she worked as the “mother goose” to bar-headed geese.

4. Christina M. Hammock

Hammock, a 34-year-old from Jacksonville, North Carolina has always had the dream of becoming involved with NASA. After earning a scholarship in 2000 to attend North Carolina State University in Raleigh, she completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering. In addition to her current work for NOAA as the atmospheric station chief in American Samoa, she has worked as a research associate at Raytheon Polar Services, an engineer at John’s Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, and as an engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

5. Tyler “Nick” N. Hague

This lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force thinks of home as Hoxie, Kansas. He serves as the deputy chief of joint improvised explosive devices for the Department of Defense. He has earned degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the U.S. Air Force Test-Pilot School. He is 37 years old.

6. Andrew R. Morgan

Morgan has worked as an emergency physician and flight surgeon for the Army in the special operations community, and is currently completing a sports medicine fellowship. Originally from New Castle, Pennsylvania, Morgan studied at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and earned his doctorate in medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. He is 37 years old.

7. Anne C. McClain

McClain, a 34-year-old major in the U.S. Army, has dreamed of becoming an astronaut since her childhood days in Spokane, Washington. She graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where she played softball and studied aerospace engineering. She received her advanced degrees in the United Kingdom at the University of Bath and the University of Bristol, respectively. Currently, she is an employee of the Johnson Space Center in the Astronaut Office.

8. Nicole A. Mann

This 35-year-old California native is tough. She’s a major in the U.S. Marine Corps, and an F/A 18 pilot. She works at present as a leader of the Integrated Product Team at a U.S Naval Air Station. She received her undergraduate degree from the U.S. Naval Academy where she was an accomplished soccer player. In 1998, she was player of the year and in 1999 was named All-American. She received her advanced degrees from U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland.

Originally published on Policy Mic

SpaceX: No, It’s Not Insane to Support Moon Colonies

Way back when in early 2012, former GOP presidential nominee candidate Newt Gingrich proposed instating an American moon colony, and was highly ridiculed for this proposal. Despite the fact that NASA seeks completely different developments, private companies are once again exploring the option.

NASA, America’s government-funded space agency, hasn’t looked into the idea of a moon colony in a while. Rather, scientists strive to land astronauts on asteroids by 2021 and working with quantum computers to model artificial intelligence in space. The idea of a moon colony maintains an air of science-fiction, but technically speaking it may be feasible through privately-funded endeavors.

Bigelow Aerospace, LLC — a company specializing in inflatable space habitats — has agreed to work with NASA to explore the possibility of landing another astronaut more permanently on the moon in the form of a colony. The Las Vegas-based company would not receive payment for this side job, other private companies such as Uwingu have begun to use crowd-funding to raise money to support such endeavors. Another company, SpaceX, has sold over 50 launches through 2017.

The crowd-funding method appeals to the popular science aspects of landing on the moon. Despite the fact that former astronauts would rather see us trying to land on Mars or an asteroid, moon colonies still appeal. Just recently, one lucky bidder in a charity auction won a trip to sit next to Leonardo DiCaprio on the first ever space tourism voyage for $1.5 million. Public space travel is a marketable reality. It may be a frivolous expense only now available to those with casual millions to spend, but the idea has a public appeal.

No form of space exploration is cheap: Estimates from the Center for Strategic and International Studies show that even a four-person colony would cost a pretty penny of $35 billion dollars. Although private endeavors have at present only raised a fraction of the cost, the fact that they’ve raised anything at all is worth the tip of a hat. At present, NASA’s financial future is uncertain: it’s no wonder the government space-agency chooses its projects strategically for the most obviously beneficial technological endeavors.

Space exploration — and most scientific research in general — is one of the first victims of budget cuts, and when financial resources are limited, it is one of the many fields to be run out of business.

Sometimes, it’s hard to see the direct benefits of any research into the unknown. However, NASA alone generates many spin-off technologies that benefit us in hidden ways. Maybe moon colonies don’t seem to be the most practical form of scientific exploration, but at least the private sector has undertaken some form of research funding to outer space. The government can’t do it alone, and who knows what kinds of helpful spinoffs will result from these investments? It doesn’t matter who is investing in space technologies, or for what motivation, so long as the public is aware and supports the endeavor.

Original article published on Policy Mic